At the risk of oversimplifying, here are three “re’s” students need to keep in mind when writing their college application essays.


Unless a student was raised by wolves or comes from Pluto, it is rare that an outstanding essay topic instantly reveals itself. On the contrary, it takes time and serious self reflection to develop a concept that will be original, compelling and, most importantly, draw the attention and admiration of Admissions Directors. That’s why it’s important to put aside your first, second, and third ideas (you can always go back to them) and keep pushing, mining your experiences for an idea that is truly elevated. Then, once you have that idea, don’t go with the obvious conclusions or moral lessons. Continue to reflect and take it a step further. Find that next level of wisdom, that less obvious but often more profound perspective that will demonstrate the maturity and deep thinking colleges prefer.


There are many traps into which students can fall when writing their application essays. Some of these include:

• In an effort to be “done,” students will sometimes begin writing their essays before they have fully developed the concept.

• They may also jump to the writing before they have outlined their essay.

• Students will use the essay to “sell” themselves to the school, citing accomplishments that are listed elsewhere in their application, or are not necessarily relevant to the essay as a whole.

• Students will go with a straightforward, traditional format, rather than exploring a more unique way to construct their essay.

• Students will overuse the thesaurus, filling their essays with four syllable words that are not organic to the essay.

It is the student’s responsibility to be aware of these traps – and so many others, please see my blog archives for more – and then scrupulously resist them.


We all know that writing is rewriting and this is particularly true with the college application essay. As new ideas occur, don’t be afraid to let go of the less dynamic ones, even if it means starting from scratch. Omit digressions and extraneous ideas and words from your drafts. Continue to search for the perfect phrase that will nail down your concept. Most of all, be committed to doing more drafts of this piece than you have ever done in your life.

Bonus “re”

A final “re” is the ever critical… re-lax. Undue anxiety will only freeze you up and lower the quality and effectiveness of your essay. Over-editing – agonizing over every “a” and “the” – can wind up squeezing the life out of your work. Trying too hard to be clever can come off as forced. Relentlessly second guessing yourself can lead to confusion. So take a deep breath, exhale slowly, and stay focused on the end result of all this tension and work – you are going to college next year!

For more personal help with the Common Application, Supplemental, or any other college admission essays, please go to, or contact Craig Heller directly at [email protected] or 818-340-1276.

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